Weird Westerns: Dead in Tombstone (2013)


Danny Trejo stars as a bandit who makes a deal with the devil to return to earth in order to kill the men who murdered him. 

by Max Sparber

I've seen a few films by director Roel Reiné, and have found all of them enjoyably pulpy. He's responsible for the two direct-to-video sequels to Paul W. S. Anderson's "Death Race," highlighting the real pleasures of boy-band-singer-turned-action-star Luke Goss. The second sequel is especially smart, playing out as a delirious criticism of colonialism in the form of a race movie.

Reiné's attempt at a Western is neatly lensed but sometimes incomprehensibly edited, with the film growing increasingly chaotic and hard-to-follow as it goes along. I'm not sure why this is, at it has a relatively simple plot: Danny Trejo is the leader of a gang of desperadoes, is murdered by his half-brother, and makes a bargain with the devil to come back to kill them in 24 hours all in exchange for his soul.

The film has some genuine pleasures, not the least of which is Trejo, a longtime character actor who has specialized in soulful tough guys, and who occasionally lands lead performances that make use of a rarely explored talent for self-parody — see his "Machete" films for examples of this. This film relies too much on the tough guy and never examines the self-parody, but, then, Trejo is a superlative tough guy.

His half-brother is played by former child actor Anthony Michael Hall, bearded and bloated and having far more fun with his role than is really required. He seems to have approached this this film with the sense that it might be a hoot to really dig in to playing a contemptible character. It's very hard to not feel like Reiné wasted the opportunity to make a comedy.

The film also includes Dina Meyer as the widow of Deadwood's sheriff, killed by Trejo's gang, who partners with Trejo on his mission of revenge. Meyer had a long stretch as one of the most dependable actresses in fantastic and science fiction films, having started off playing a bubbly redhead and then aging into a tougher, no-nonsense character. I've seen two versions of "Dead in Tombstone," a truncated first released and an expanded second version, and the second version gives Meyers a lot more screen time, making her a full partner in the story.

The expanded version is also considerably more violent than the original release, as best as I can remember, and contains considerably more pulchritude (Hall has filled Tombstone with prostitutes, many of whom seem to have lost their shirts). It makes the film more tawdry, but what we lose in good taste we gain in more Meyers, and I prefer more Meyers.

There's also a devil in this film, played by Mickey Rourke, although "played" may be overstating it. Rourke seems barely present, letting his disheveled hair, battered features, and wardrobe — which resembled a barely-closed bathrobe — do all the work.

Rourke used to be a dependable scene-stealer, but here seems embarrassed to be in the role, retreating, at least performance-wise, into the background, as though desperate not to be noticed. Since he is playing the devil, narrates the film, and is Mickey Rourke, it is a lot to ask that we ignore him. There was a sequel made a few years later, and Rourke did not return for it.


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